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Originally published February 20, 2013 at 8:56 PM | Page modified February 21, 2013 at 5:54 AM

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Des Moines to pay $51,000 over fatal shooting of dog

A couple whose Newfoundland, Rosie, was shot and killed by Des Moines police in November 2010 will be awarded at least $51,000 in a settlement reached late last month.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A couple whose dog was shot and killed by Des Moines police after they confronted the barking animal will be awarded at least $51,000 in a settlement reached late last month.

Charles and Dierdre Wright filed a federal lawsuit against Des Moines police, claiming their civil rights were violated when officers shot Rosie, a Newfoundland, in November 2010. The couple claimed the three officers were intent on shooting the 115-pound dog soon after encountering the animal, according to court papers.

The officers had responded to a report of a loose dog in the Wrights’ Des Moines neighborhood, phoned in by a neighbor who was concerned that Rosie might get hurt. The Wrights were out of town at the time, and the 4-year-old dog somehow got out of their yard.

Over the course of about an hour, the officers twice used a Taser on Rosie, chased her for blocks and ultimately shot the dog four times with an assault rifle in a stranger’s backyard.

In their lawsuit, the Wrights described Rosie as a companion that “aided in their enjoyment of life, well-being, personal development and daily activities.”

The Wrights’ attorney, Adam Karp, said the $51,000 reward is the largest settlement reached in Washington state for an animal-related litigation case.

“I think it’s an exceptional award,” said Karp, a Bellingham attorney who specializes in animal cases.

Neither Charles nor Dierdre Wright could be reached Wednesday for comment.

In addition to the settlement, Karp said the couple also are seeking at least $90,000 in investigative and attorney fees from the city.

Attorney Shannon Ragonesi, of the Keating Bucklin & McCormack law firm, which is representing the city, could not be reached Wednesday for comment on the settlement.

A colleague at her firm declined to comment, stating that he didn’t know the facts of the case as well as she did.

Des Moines police investigated the shooting and concluded the officers’ actions were justified, Ragonesi said in November, when the lawsuit was filed.

Two other reviews of animal-control policies — one by an outside agency and the other by an ad hoc committee appointed by the Des Moines City Council — reached similar findings, save for a finding that the city needed guidelines for the use of Tasers on animals, Ragonesi had said.

No animal-control officers were on duty when the officers — identified as Michael Graddon, Dominic Arico and Sgt. Steve Wieland — responded to the Wrights’ neighborhood on Nov. 7, 2010. Much of the officers’ conversations that Sunday were captured on dashboard-camera audio obtained by the Wrights’ attorney through the state Public Disclosure Act.

At one point, an officer produced a catchpole with a loop on one end, used to snare small animals from a safe distance. But because of Rosie’s size, they questioned whether it would work — even if they could figure out how to operate it.

One of the officers then asked, “Once we get him, what are we gonna do with him?”

An officer suggested using a Taser on the dog. Another thought he might be able to “choke her out.”

The audio recording indicates the officers were talking about shooting Rosie within 10 minutes of arriving at the scene.

The animal eventually ran into the backyard of a home about four blocks away.

After the dog was shot once, one of the officers is heard shouting “Nice!”

The officer with the rifle fired three more times, according to the lawsuit and dash-camera video.

The Wrights returned home later that day unaware of what had happened to Rosie. They called friends and the police, looking for Rosie.

According to the lawsuit, Des Moines police only acknowledged they killed the dog after Charles Wright found a Taser dart on his lawn the next day and took it to the police station, seeking an explanation.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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